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  Individualism, in the political sciences, is the opposite of collectivism, and is commonly understood as a political doctrine which declares that the aim of a political order should ultimately be to satisfy individual needs, wants and goals rather than the common good, the general will, or the ‘public interest’. For this reason its critics tend to accuse individualists of being ‘egoists’ or of embracing ‘atomism’. The most influential 19th-century analyst of individualism was Alexis de Tocqueville who detected its virtues and flaws in his writings on Democracy in America (1835 and 1840).

In the social sciences, ‘methodological individualism’ asserts that ultimately social scientific explanations must be grounded in the actions of, or facts about, individuals: that is, the actions of social collectivities must be ultimately decomposable into acts, intended or otherwise, of individuals. Methodological individualism is thought by some to be a necessary ingredient of political liberalism, and an essential safeguard against totalitarianism; others believe that it must be rejected if the social sciences are to understand properly the social nature of human life. BO\'L

See also action perspective; ethnomethodology; exchange; libertarianism; phenomenological sociology; rational choice theory; social fact; structure-agency debate.Further reading S. Lukes, Individualism; , J. O\'Neill, Modes of Individualism and Collectivism.



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